Due to some email correspondence we received around Easter, we’ve decided to publish something in response. This portion of the chapter is not exhaustive, but it does state the some basic arguments against those who would refute the empty tomb.
Excerpt from The Atheist Delusion by Dr. Phil Fernandes, Ph.D.
… just over 70% of New Testament scholars accept the empty tomb, rather than the near universal support for the other four pieces of data. There are several reasons which show that the accounts of the empty tomb are probably historical.
First, the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb (and the resurrected Christ) were women. This is something the apostles would not have made up, for a woman’s testimony was held highly suspect in the first-century ad. It offered practically no evidential value to fabricate a story of women being the first witnesses. Plus, the principle of embarrassment applies here. For, it would have been very embarrassing for the two leading apostles, Peter and John, to have been proven wrong by ladies. This would be horrible public relations for the early church. The only reason for reporting that women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb would be if it was actually true.
Second, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the Jewish religious authorities would have produced the rotting corpse of Christ, thus refuting Christianity and stifling its growth at its earliest stage. But this did not happen—Christianity grew at a tremendous rate in the early 30’s ad in the Jerusalem area. This would not be the case if Jesus’ body was still in the tomb.
Third, New Testament scholars agree that the sermons of Acts chapter 1 through 12 are the earliest sermons of the church-they date back to the early 30’s ad. Their antiquity is accepted by scholars because these sermons show no signs of theological development (this type of theological development is found in Paul’s letters which were written twenty years later).4 These sermons seem to report the events of the resurrection at the earliest stage of the church. One of the main themes of these early sermons was the resurrection of Jesus. Hence, the resurrection of Jesus was reported shortly after Christ’s crucifixion by people who claimed to be eyewitnesses and who were willing to suffer and die for their proclamation. Men do not die for what they know to be a hoax-they sincerely believed they saw the risen Christ.
Fourth, Jesus was buried in the tomb of a well-known man-Joseph of Arimathea. It would have been easy to locate the tomb to ascertain if it was empty. Many critics acknowledge the reliability of the account of Jesus being buried in Joseph’s tomb.5 For, if there was no real Joseph of Arimathea on the Jewish Ruling Council, then this account would be easily refuted by the enemies of the early church. However, once we admit that there existed a man named Joseph of Arimathea on the Jewish Ruling Council, then it is highly unlikely the apostles fabricated this account. Joseph would have been easy to find-there were only 70 members on the Sanhedrin and they met regularly in Jerusalem. If the apostles lied about the burial, then one could interview Joseph of Arimathea to check the account to disprove it. But, once we admit Jesus was buried in the tomb of a famous man, then we must acknowledge how easy it would have been to prove the corpse was still in the tomb, had it actually been there. But, this did not happen. Hence, the tomb was empty.